Quick Tips Before You Visit

Palmer C. Ricketts

Palmer C. Ricketts at his desk, circa 1930s

Materials housed in the Archives and Special Collections are unique, out-of-print, rare, one-of-a-kind, or exist in a specialized format. Formats are varied, and may include photographs, audio, video, and artifacts, as well as paper based material, personal or organizational records such as correspondence, memoranda, diaries, minutes of committees, reports, speech and lecture notes, maps, blueprints, scrapbooks, and newspaper clippings.

What to expect when visiting the Archives:

  • Due to complexity, fragility, storage, size, and the manner of organization in an archives, researchers will need assistance finding material.
  • Talk to an archivist about your interests, they can point you in the right direction!
  • Give yourself plenty of time to work with staff and the materials retrieved for you (care, patience and attention are required).
  • Be prepared to wait for copies if you need them.
  • Ask about databases and website access to collections: photograph database, electronic books, inventories of manuscript collections and Institute publications.
  • Expect to review descriptive tools which explains the content and organization of a collection.

Policies and procedures in the Archives and Special Collections are different than Folsom library’s general collection.

  • We keep a confidential record of patrons through registration procedures.
  • We require patrons to work in the designated Fixman Research room on the 3rd floor of Folsom Library.
  • We require that patrons place all personal items such as bags, backpacks, and purses away from the table they are occupying.
  • We have strict policies against pens and food or drink around the collections.
  • We have “closed stacks.” This means patrons must request materials.

Materials are collected in the following subject areas and disciplines:

  • Civil engineering, especially bridge, canal, and railroad design and construction;
  • Mechanics and mechanical engineering;
  • Geology; chemistry; physics; mathematics; architecture; and science and technology studies;
  • Rensselaer’s student life and activities;
  • Personal papers of Rensselaer alumni and faculty members documenting their professional careers;
  • The Institute’s curriculum;
  • Local history materials.

Terms used to describe holdings in the Archives:

  • ManuscriptsThe valuable historical or literary records of individuals or families created, received, assembled, or accumulated as they conducted their daily lives.
  • Archives – The permanently valuable records of organizations, businesses, and government agencies.
  • Primary sources – Items which provide documentation of past events from the perspective of participants, first-hand observers, witnesses, and recorders. Examples of these items exist as letters, diaries, photographs, video, memo, or a report.
  • Secondary sources – Handed-down stories, compilations or an accounts which digest and interpret information from other sources like a book, recording, video, or article.
  • Collections – In contrast to the discrete, published items collected in libraries, the objects (usually called “collections”) collected by the archives are complex bodies of interrelated, unique materials which we call “collections.”  For example the Archives house the Student Life collection, a unique array of primary and secondary material which documents the various activities of students on campus.